Pressure off Durkin at Belmont
I grew up listening to Tom Durkin, and when I got old enough to recognize what he was doing, his calls just mesmerized me; I was really captivated by them.
Stone, 27, still has the letter, written in 1997, that he sent to Durkin asking for advice. I want to be a race caller, what do I have to do? He also has another letter: the one Durkin sent back.
"He told me to practice, to get familiar with the aspects of the game," the younger announcer recalls. "Of course, I was like 13 at the time, so he told me to do good in school, to work toward it, that it would come."
A few years later, Stone visited the announcer's booth at Saratoga Race Course (now Durkin allows people to do the same for a donation to charity, and last year he raised $25,000 for Anna House, the nonprofit day-care center for children of the workers on Belmont's backside). Once the youngster watched Durkin call a race, he knew he would never do anything else.
"Who knows?" he remarks. "If he never writes back, maybe that discourages me. If he doesn't call races the way he calls, maybe that doesn't captivate me. So from a very personal standpoint, I recognize his impact."
Durkin's calls have brought races to life for an entire generation of fans, his phrasing a picture of countless historical moments, his voice providing a play-by-play of history.
"I don't think anyone will ever be able to paint the picture to capture a moment and to bring a race to life like he has," Stone says. "He's hardly ever out of sync with the race; he's like a good melody with a good harmony, they go together well."
In some ways, the legendary announcer recognizes this fact.
"I know that I have a certain place in the sport, but I'm not the kind of person that pats myself on my back; I did that once and dislocated my shoulder," Durkin jokes.
In other ways, it's hard for him to believe that decades of famous stretch runs, narratives of great performances by Thoroughbreds now enshrined in horse racing's Hall of Fame, are all in the past.
"I really don't think of those races as being historic because it's my life, you know?" he remarks. "I think George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are historic. When it's your life, you really don't think of it that way. I do have a great appreciation for the fact that I've been able to have a front row seat for some of the greatest athletic events of our time, and I've been blessed to be associated with them, but you're only as good as your last call."
That call could come on Labor Day in 2015, when the announcer's contract with the New York Racing Association expires. He's already thinking that would be a fine time to hang up his binoculars.
"I'll be 64 years old, 64 and a half, actually," he says. "At this point, I'm thinking that's a pretty good time to go."
I grew up listening to Tom Durkin, and when I got old enough to recognize what he was doing, his calls just mesmerized me; I was really captivated by them.” -- Travis Stone, La. Downs track announcer
THE TRIPLE CROWN
• 'Lucky' ends Triple Crown bid in Preakness
• Desormeaux defends Derby stretch ride
• Eskendereya retired; Jess Jackson buys in
• Eskendereya cruises in the Wood Memorial
• Drosselmeyer's feet seem OK after work
• Belmont: First Dude could be one to catch